My partner has been sleeping around ...

Frances's partner of 22 years has confessed to a series of affairs, but excuses himself by saying that as they aren't married (though they have a child) he hadn't committed adultery or infidelity, he got lonely on trips abroad, and women threw themselves at him. He says he loves Frances but doesn't fancy her. Frances wants to stay but feels she'll lose her self-respect if she does.

Poor old Frances. She only has to let out a squeak of objection about her partner's totally unacceptable behaviour and he spews out such a barrage of smoke, darts, no-entry signs, lures, traps and general confusion that it's small wonder Frances doesn't know where she is. And I guess she prefers not to know where she is than to admit to herself that she's been shacking up with such a dishonest and treacherous man for the last 22 years.

First he tries to wriggle out on a technicality - and technicalities have no place in a loving relationship. Okay, so his flings aren't actually adultery, but his behaviour constitutes infidelity, which simply means being unfaithful. Unless made clear that it's otherwise, sexual fidelity is taken for granted early on even in relationships that are emotionally quite low-key.

Secondly, his loneliness. Not all men by any means have affairs when they go away and if he got lonely he could have suggested that Frances accompany him.

Finally his argument that women threw themselves at him just won't wash. Both men and women give out very loud psychic messages indeed when they meet members of the opposite sex and these basically run: "Keep off, I'm not interested" or "We-ell, I might be interested" or "I'm available." Women tend not to make passes at men like Frances' partner who are heavily involved with someone else only because the chances of being rejected are higher than with single men. And since nearly everyone is terrified of rejection, Frances' partner must have put out "Come and get me, girls!" signs writ in neon.

But his remark that he loves her yet doesn't fancy her is the corker. "'Ello, 'ello, 'ello," as policemen used to say. "What's goin' on 'ere?" "I love you" is a message full of love, while "I don't fancy you" is full of loathing. Verbal blows below the belt are as painful as physical ones and he's giving a very confused message to Frances, who needs to find out what's going on. Is this a way of suggesting they should try sex therapy? Is this mixed message a preparation for him to tip-toe out of the relationship? Is he trying to suggest some open arrangement? Should she start looking for someone else? Does his statement that he loves her but doesn't fancy her mean he has sexual needs and plans to get them satisfied elsewhere or is he saying that though he has sexual needs he's going to sublimate them for the rest of their life together? What about her sexual needs?

As for her self-esteem, it won't be affected whether she stays or goes, but it will be affected if she doesn't find out exactly where she stands. There's nothing wrong with staying with a two-faced philanderer if she's weighed up all the pros and cons and made a positive decision that it's in her interests to stay. Indeed, she could preserve her self-esteem by privately pitying him for his tragic weaknesses and lack of morality or reliability. But she should be warned that the pay-off of feeling contempt for him might well be that she would end up in having no sexual feelings for him herself. A neat turning of the tables on a man who does deserve, I think, to have a little taste of his own medicine, just so he can find out how very much it hurtsn

What readers say

Frances shouldn't dwell on the last 16 years - they cannot have been totally negated, whatever his behaviour was. She really must consider the problem by looking at the present - today. If he says it will not happen again (and this cannot be guaranteed) then try to accept this. She may have to re-assess the situation if he fails to keep his word, but that is in the future and doesn't count for consideration now. I would suggest that she just consolidates her present position and not quantify her own worth against his behaviour. She should see where she stands today; her own worth and potential haven't altered because of these revelations from her partner.

Fred Page, Herefordshire

How can you possibly love this man after what he's done to you and your self-worth? He may think he loves you, but he clearly has a twisted view of love. Imagine his reaction if you'd done the same to him; does the thought "homeless" ring a bell?

In my opinion, if you really love somebody, you don't want anybody else, however much you're missing them.

Perhaps you are only taking the "safe option" of staying with him because he's made your confidence so low that you think you won't be able to get anyone else. I'd rather live alone than with an adulterer.

If you stayed, it would always be in the back of your thoughts that he'd do it again; which he probably would as he's done it several times before. Maybe one mistake is forgivable, but several? Are you sure it's him you'd miss, or the old routine of knowing that somebody's always going to be there when you get home? You're obviously a fairly intelligent woman as you read The Independent, so why be taken in by such a fool?

Kathryn Mark, West Yorkshire

Frances' partner indeed sounds like many men, including my husband. You can only assume that you are indeed the one he loves by dint of the fact that he still wants to be with you. If you choose to stay with him it does not mean you are abandoning your self-worth - quite the opposite, in fact. It would be your choice to stay - for your own good, your child and no doubt your partner's. You certainly need to communicate how you feel about things and thrash out some ground rules for a continued life together. If you have enough in common, not just your child but shared interests and activities you do together, then you will be giving yourselves an opportunity to be closer again and your relationship will function on a different level than before. The most important thing is that once you have decided to stay, get on with improving things and don't keep looking back - you hopefully still have a future to get things right - but it must be based on honesty and trust.

Jill, Watford

Next week's dilemma: my wife never wants to have children

Dear Virginia

I'm 35 and have been married for seven years. Both my wife and I have successful and reasonably rewarding jobs. To start with my wife simply put off the idea of having children, saying she wanted to re-qualify and so on, but four years on she still didn't want children so we went to Relate, where it became clear that she never wanted children.

This prompted a six-month depression, a separation, then a reconciliation. I feel such a sense of betrayal, as I have had no part in this decision. Her attitude and that of many people is that if I wanted children badly enough then I'd leave and find someone who wanted them. But I still love my wife. How can I stay with someone I love, and learn to accept life without children - or how can I leave someone I love in the hope that I can find someone who does want children?

Yours, William

Comments are welcome, and everyone who has a suggestion quoted will receive a bouquet from

Send personal experiences or comments to me at the Features Department, `The Independent', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL; fax 0171-293 2182, by Tuesday morning. If you have any dilemmas of your own that you would like to share with others, let me know.